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Bud Powell: Birdland 1953

Bud Powell biographer Peter Pullman refers to 1953 as the busiest year of the pianist’s career. It didn’t begin in the best of ways: Powell ended 16 months of occupancy in mental institutions. Before the calendar turned again, he would participate in the “Greatest Jazz Concert Ever,” at Toronto’s Massey Hall with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. But before and after Massey Hall, the pianist played almost weekly trio dates at Birdland, which were recorded and broadcast over the radio. His bandmates changed frequently yet Powell never ceased to amaze, playing with a stream of creativity that seemed to flow effortlessly from his hands. ESP-Disk’ and a few other labels have released these performances previously in single albums, but this three-disc collection offers a closer look at a very important time in Powell’s life.

A few years prior to these shows, the pianist recorded his now-classic tunes “Un Poco Loco,” “Dance of the Infidels” and “Glass Enclosure” for Blue Note. Hearing them live offers proof that they existed outside of the studio and that, in most cases, they were expanded and deepened on a regular basis. Art Taylor’s snare and brushes ably take the place of Max Roach’s vociferous cowbell in three solid versions of “Un Poco Loco.” Powell plays the intro to “Dance of the Infidels” in tempo, leading into a furious torrent of ideas, especially on the second of six versions, with Taylor and Mingus moving right with him.

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